Photo: A portion of my Saturday afternoon was spent in the New Hampshire sunshine (warm in the rare moments when the wind wasn’t blowing) next to a shimmering lake in the shadow of a mountain. Beautiful, thought-provoking, quiet, inspiring. I’ve been to New Hampshire a handful of times, but this is the longest I’ve ever spent there. There is a lot to appreciate, a lot a sights that made me go “hmm” as well.
Confirmation Camp was nothing like what I thought it would be. I thought I was going to go to the mountains and really connect with my confirmand but, instead, I actually spent very little time with her, as teenagers and adults were often separated and doing other activities. While we were often in the same room, we were rarely doing an activity that allowed us to hang out together. Even in those moments, we were singing or dancing rather than conversing. It was a bit frustrating.
My disappointment and annoyance aside, I really must write about how impressed I was with the rest of the experience: the conference center we visited, the confirmation program itself, and the teenagers who ran the program. I’ll try not to be too dry about it, but I think you’ll see how it all comes together.
First, the conference center. We stayed at the Barbara C. Harris Camp and Conference Center, which is a stunning and modern facility. Every building on the site is brand new and well appointed, yet intimate and very thoughtfully designed. Our cabin was spacious, with high ceilings and hardwood floors, not to mention a good heating system and clean bathrooms. I didn’t feel like I was roughing it at all, which was a plus. I would love the opportunity to go back there for more adult conversation: prayer, reflection, writing? I really fell in love with that place and will seek opportunities to return to it.
The program itself was also well run and it was run by high-school aged youth leaders, who I will write more about in a minute. This was designed to be a weekend for teens studying for confirmation to hang out with other teenagers who are contemplating their faith during a crazy time in their lives. It turns out that our 8th graders were among the youngest to attend (it seems that most programs around the diocese confirm high schoolers during their sophomore year), but they were also the most prepared and willing to be there. Our confirmands told us that most of the others in their groups said that they were only on the retreat because their parents made them go, only confirming because they felt they had an obligation to do so–another box to check off on a long list of to-dos. Our confirmands sincerely wanted to be there, so I suppose that is a testament to the program built at our individual church.
The biggest thing, though, was the student leaders who ran the program. One of the things that I love about the Episcopal church here in Massachusetts is that they have invested a lot in the children of the church (apparent in our awesome Sunday School) all the way up through their Youth Leadership Academy and Diocesan Youth Council (DYC), both programs for high school students. Some 50 high school juniors and seniors ran just about every aspect of the retreat this weekend: they checked us in, they facilitated our small-groups, they led us in prayer, they played the music for the program, they baked the Eucharist bread, they kept us on schedule, they even served us communion! These were kids who were poised, eager, happy, cool, hard working… they were all the things you want a teenager to be. I can’t emphasize enough how impressed I was with them!
I mean, yes, it was very teenagery… the music was contemporary: a kid strumming his guitar while his friends crooned about the might of the Lord…there was a lot of dancing and funny lyrics… it was camp, you know? But that youthful energy was constructive and loving. Those DYC teens clearly loved each other, knew each other and respected each other. They held that camp sacred, they took their responsibilities seriously, they wanted to be there. I saw in them what I’d like my boys to be someday. There were more than a few moments when I thought to myself, “I’d love for the boys to participate in this program some day.” Hell, maybe it will be Major up there strumming a guitar.
The biggest thing though, the power of this program, is the fact that those kids are heading off to college feeling proud of their faith and feeling firm in it. They are unapologetically Christian, but in that reserved way that Episcopalians often are. It’s the perfect balance of what I’ve been looking for. Be yourself, live your faith, don’t trample on everybody else’s.
So, in that way, this was actually an excellent weekend. I’ve always treated “church” the institution as something suspect, an ideological entity to either hold in contempt or to gently ignore. While I’ve come to love the individual little church that we attend, this idea of a larger Church organization has been of little interest to me. Spending time with other adults who clearly care about this church and the young people growing up in it, even getting to spend 2 hours listening to and participating in group discussions with the Diocesan Bishop (coolest part of the weekend), I’m feeling good about our choice of faith community and I’m actually excited to become more involved. I’m feeling less anxious about how the boys will grow in their faith and now I’m excited to see if/how they will choose to participate as they become eligible to do so. My job will be not to push, but to help and facilitate…
Of course, I will have the problem of not spending much time with my confirmand. We’re negotiating afternoon pizza in the next few weeks. Confirmation is next month and I feel like I don’t know anything about this young lady at all… that’s somewhat my fault. I have to step up my efforts to reach out.
New England decided to celebrate the first day of Spring with 6 inches of snow and a snow day for the boys. I’ve been a grumpy girl all day. But there have been a few moments when I took a deep breath and thought about the sunshine and the lake. It calmed me down, if only for a moment.
It hasn’t been the best start to a week, but there is plenty of time to recover. What are you up to, Dear Reader? I’m looking forward to sharing with you this week!
See you Wednesday.